The things she carried powered her through her days: her banged-up water bottle and her cell phone in a waterproof case and her wristwatch which was constantly ticking. She carried her camera with an extra zoom lens because her feet could only carry her so far.
She carried the time of day and her habit of over-planning and a constant comparison of herself to her peers. She drew bad jokes from her quiver of puns in an attempt to make her friends’ burdens seem lighter, even if just for a fleeting second, but she knew that everyone else also struggled to lay down their best cards with the hand they’d been dealt.
Everywhere she went, she toted a journal and a mechanical pencil, knowing she would run down graphite before she ran out of words, and on her shoulders leaned a fear of forgetting the moments that made her heart beat fast and her lungs trip over themselves.
She carried memories and images of those closest to her: summer evenings reading in the nylon hammock on Cape Cod; her mother’s glassy brown eyes and thinning hair; sitting in the backseat while her older brother learns to drive. In the spring, as flowers started to bloom, she counted down the weeks until she could be laughing and making sarcastic side comments with her godmother through busy suburban parks on Sunday afternoons.
She couldn’t erase the fur left on her clothing by her cat and her dog, the little balls of fluff with whom she had shared the second half of her life. She grasped so hard onto old advice that her hands were sweaty and worn; she had a habit of re-living the past. Even as she loved every day at prep school, she missed moments at her old public school spent chatting with her favorite English teacher, whose advice she repeated when she began to doubt herself. She never wanted to be a disappointment, neither to others nor to herself.
She carried a tangled knot of hair on the crown of her head, which sometimes boosted her confidence but mostly just got in the way. She carried her head high even on the days she wasn’t sure she would like the sight of her unplucked unibrow, or the acne climbing up the sides of her face, or the baggy sweatshirt she wore to shield herself from her own judgement. She carried her backpack, over-prepared for what might come, monogrammed with her initials in the font she was always taught to use. Her shoulders felt the weight of her triple Ds and her bitterness of not having any natural athletic talent and her understanding that new clothes weren't worth the money, all of which she didn’t ask for but couldn’t escape.
As a kid she lived a sort of double life, throwing temper tantrums at home but walking into class the next morning mature and composed, at least for an eight-year-old. She switched off her immaturity at the sight of a teacher or even just her mother’s camera phone. Later she learned to take things easier, that there weren’t many things worth getting worked up over.
She grew up in a big town and then she grew out of it.
When she was hit with her first real dose of rejection, a thin envelope from the school that had enticed her with five amazing years, she tried not to let it break her down, but it did.
It took months until she finally built herself back up.
Eventually, she came to terms with the fact that she would have to stay home, and she realized maybe she’d never been good enough for anything more than the mystery meat, slamming lockers, and monotonous days of public school. But with time came opportunity and in the end it all worked out.
Not like she ever expected, but it worked out all the same.
She loved acoustic music and chatting with her friends and writing down words as she strung them together. She carried dreams of paying it forward, of seeing her name in print, and of proving her doubters wrong by making it big, rags-to-riches style. As she went for them, she made sure never to forget her pencil.